DURHAM, N.H. — They hadn’t led once in the series and had to rally from deficits three times, but in the end the Providence Friars stood ahead on the scoreboard when it counted, 4-3.
An overtime two-on-one by freshmen Colin McDonald and Bill McCreary turned into the game-winner at 2:49 and forced a deciding third game in their Hockey East playoff series.
Providence opened the overtime by killing off the remaining 41 seconds of a third-period penalty, but capitalized on a brutal UNH change-up to emerge with the season-extending win. With one New Hampshire defenseman deep in the offensive zone, a forward had McDonald covered on a two-on-two until inexplicably changing up to gift wrap the odd-man rush. McCreary fed McDonald, who put a nice move on goaltender Mike Ayers for the goal.
“[The defender] peeled off me and the puck got to Billy Mac,” McDonald said. “I saw it was a two-on-one and I just went right to the net. Billy Mac made a great pass to me; he put it between the kid’s legs. Once I had the puck, I let my instincts take over and just snuck it in.
“This is the stuff you dream about when you’re a kid. For it to happen to me in my first overtime college playoff game — God, I’m pretty speechless. You expect [that to happen] to juniors and seniors, but for a freshman-to-a-freshman [goal], it sure feels good right now.”
The game winner capped three comebacks for the Friars, down 2-1 after the first period, 3-2 early in the third and on the penalty kill to start overtime.
“After the first period, I actually kicked the garbage can,” PC coach Paul Pooley said. “It’s one thing to get beat by a team. It’s another thing to lose. We played like we were losing. I said, ‘If we’re going down, they’re going to have to beat us.’ We didn’t want to go down not playing our best.
“We came back and showed character coming back each time. [But] I told them going into overtime, ‘Hey, we have character, but character only matters when you win a game.’”
For UNH, the overtime loss was one of missed opportunities.
“Every time we scored, we let them back in the game,” UNH coach Dick Umile said. “As I told the team in the locker room afterwards, ‘It’s real disappointing, but you better get over it fast because they’re excited. We have to get over it tonight and get back to it.’”
Pooley exuded the confidence of a coach with all the momentum.
“We’re kind of figuring out how to play these guys on this [Olympic] sheet,” he said. “I’m looking forward to game three. We’ve won a lot of big game threes. I don’t think we’ve lost a game three since I’ve been [at Providence].”
Pooley’s recollection is accurate. In their only three-game playoff series in his tenure, the Friars topped Boston University in 1999 and 2001, the latter a double-overtime deciding game.
For UNH fans, however, 2001 is a year to forget. In that Hockey East quarterfinal, Massachusetts-Lowell rallied to take games two and three by identical 2-1 scores, in the process knocking UNH out of the NCAA tournament.
This game hardly opened as if the Wildcats would have to worry about such possibilities, though, as they had a clear advantage in the first period. Brian Yandle set up the first goal from the left point with a great display of ice vision, spotting Jacob Micflikier five feet off the far post and threading a pass to him. The freshman wasted no time putting the puck into the open side, giving him his tenth goal of the season.
The lead lasted all of 38 seconds, however, because a poor UNH centering pass from behind the offensive goal triggered a Providence three-on-two. Torry Gajda and Jonathan Goodwin worked the puck to Chase Watson, who slipped a shot past Ayers to tie the game.
Late in the period, just seconds after a Providence penalty expired but before the Friars could get their fifth skater into the play, Yandle kept the puck in the zone and flipped the puck toward the net. After a fortuitous bounce or two, it found its way to Sean Collins at the right doorstep where he whacked in his 16th of the year and third of the series.
Second-period quality scoring opportunities were few and far between, but Providence evened the score, 2-2, on one of the rare ones. Ironically, it came from the Friar fourth line. Defenseman Eric Lundberg got the puck down to Mike Robinson, who centered to David Carpentier in the slot. The goal, Carpentier’s third of the season, came at 17:54.
Early in the third, UNH went on the power play and showed why its conversion percentage ran neck-and-neck with Providence for tops in Hockey East. Brett Hemingway circled from the right faceoff circle up to the points, moving right-to-left, pivoted and shot. Preston Callander, parked in front of PC goaltender Bobby Goepfert, deflected it in for his 20th of the year.
Once again, however, Providence rallied to tie. At 7:37, Dinos Stamoulis shot from the point and Gajda lifted the rebound into the net for another deadlock.
The Friars threatened later in the period, going on a power play, but UNH killed off the penalty, albeit with PC keeping the puck in the offensive zone for a long stretch after the sides evened up.
It became UNH’s turn for a man advantage with 1:19 remaining in regulation, but the Friars killed it off to set the stage for McDonald and McCreary’s heroics.